Twisted Light Transfers Data 85,000 Times Faster Than Broadband

By Chelsea Whyte on June 27, 2012 9:10 PM EDT

twisted light
Give light a twist and it can transfer data 85,000 times faster than broadband internet. (Photo: Creative Commons: Greg Hayter)

Twisted beams of light have been shown to transmit data 85,000 times faster than broadband Internet, in a new study by a multi-national team hailing from the United States, Israel, and China and Pakistan and led by scientists at the University of Southern California.

In a lab test, researchers were able to transmit 2.56 terabits of data per second, a technique which could inform design for high-speed satellite communication links, short free-space communication links on earth, or potentially be adapted for use in the fiber optic cables that are used by some Internet service providers, according to researchers.

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"You're able to do things with light that you can't do with electricity," said Alan Willner, electrical engineering professor at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and the corresponding author of an article about the research that was published in Nature Photonics. "That's the beauty of light; it's a bunch of photons that can be manipulated in many different ways at very high speed."

Willner and his team used a laser light beam pointed through a special liquid crystal, which split the beam into eight separate rays of light and set the photons that make up each beam into a DNA-like helix twist. Each of the beams had its own. Each of the beams had its own individual twist and can be encoded with "1" and "0" data bits, making each an independent data stream - much like separate channels on your radio - and sending more data without the need for more bandwidth.

The eight beams then pass through another polarizing filter which recombines them into one laser, transmitting data as a package. They sent this data over open space in a lab, which simulates potential communications that could occur between satellites in space, said researchers.

Most data traffic in optical fibers around the world is made up of different data streams on slightly different colors of light, which are split into their constituent colors at the receiving end in a technique called multiplexing, according to BBC News. What's different here is that the light isn't colored. Instead the receiver relies on the twisting of the beams to identify the data.

The concept could someday also boost data speeds over fiber-optic cables - Boston University researchers have already tested the method in a fiber ring stretching 0.6 miles, reports The Christian Science Monitor.

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